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Thursday, June 29, 2023

Recovery Effort Ongoing


Work continues to restore power, remove debris

Shreveport Mayor Tom Arceneaux has nothing but praise for his administration and his constituents in the wake of a storm that left most residents without power for several days and caused widespread damage across the city and Caddo and Bossier parishes.

“The department heads and city employees have done a fabulous job dealing with this,” Arceneaux said last Thursday, seven days after the storm moved through in the early morning hours of June 16. “They were also without power. Some of them are still without power. Some of them got power back yesterday, for example. And they have been working all their shifts, doing everything they are able to do.

“By and large, the community has been wonderful. They have been patient. They have been cooperative. They have been checking up on their neighbors and making sure people had means.”

The biggest concern communitywide is restoring power. That job belongs to SWEPCO. Arceneaux has closely watched progress as crews have worked diligently to restore power after the largest outage in the company’s service history.

“Obviously, the biggest thing that needs to be done is for power to be restored. That’s SWEPCO’s ball of wax, and they are doing a very, very good job,” he said. “As of yesterday, there were just under 23,000 houses in Caddo Parish without power. That’s down from about 100,000. That is terrific.”

SWEPCO set up a staging yard on the Louisiana State Fairgrounds to serve its crews and those coming in from out of town to assist with restoration efforts. Arceneaux and his wife, Elizabeth, toured the yard last week and were impressed with the operation.

“It is an amazing machine that they’ve got going there,” he said. “They are feeding thousands of people three meals a day. They feed them breakfast. They send them out with a bag lunch. Then they feed them at night. They’ve got laundry service. Think about that. These guys are outside in heavy personal protection equipment. Their clothes are completely soiled and wet when they come in. They have a laundry system. They have a food system. To see that spring up as quickly as it did was simply amazing. Elizabeth and I went through just thanking line workers for coming to our community and helping us out. That was just a great experience.”

Arceneaux said that as the city moves into the recovery stage, debris removal will be the biggest priority across the city.

“Primarily vegetative debris – trees, tree branches, shrubbery, that kind of thing,” the mayor explained. “That’s gong to be far more than our city crews can handle. And probably more than our landfill can handle in the short run.”

To that end, the city is preparing a request for proposals for debris contractors to come in and remove the vegetative debris. He said the state will pay 75% of these contractors’ fees. City sanitation crews will continue to remove the non-vegetative trash and debris.

“What we are asking people to do is to place their debris on the street,” he said. “They don’t need to cut it up in particular bundles. All of those regulations are intended for small amounts of debris that will go in compactors. This debris will not go into our compactors. It will break them.

“Don’t put it over your water meter. Don’t put it over a utility line, or where it interferes with drainage. Put it where it can be picked up by our contractor, who eventually will get there. We are hoping we can get that process done in three or four weeks. And it will take a week or two to pick it all up.”

The second challenge with debris removal is having a place to take it. Arceneaux said the city had identified a site, but it still has to get a permit before debris can be delivered and processed. The whole process will take time.

“When I say time, I don’t mean days. I mean weeks,” Arceneaux said. “The city’s going to look a little ragged for the next four, five or six weeks. Please rest assured we are going to get to it.  We’re working on it as quickly as we can. But it’s just not something our city crews will be able to do.”

Arceneaux said communicating news and updates to the community proved to be a challenge in the storm’s aftermath. Many traditional avenues were unavailable, with so many residents without power.

“It is the biggest challenge,” he said. “For example, there are people who are on oxygen. We have an oxygen exchange, and we have a station for that. But we weren’t necessarily getting that information to the people who needed it because they couldn’t receive it under the normal channels you would expect.”

The mayor said the administration took a lesson from North Louisiana Interfaith, a coalition of congregations and community-based organizations in North Louisiana. Interfaith surveyed residents after the storm.

“They sent out 100,000 text messages,” Arceneaux said. “They used the voter registration list to do that, which I thought was quite ingenious. It’s something that we need to look at. Now, sometimes people think it’s a scam, and you have to figure out a way to get around that. But to be able to reach 100,000 cell phone numbers in a very short amount of time and at a relatively low expense, I thought that was ingenious and a very bright way to reach people.

“They had about a 4% response, which is 4,000 people. They engaged with those people. That is something for us to remember for the next time.”

Arceneaux said this crisis had presented a number of learning opportunities for city and parish officials. Communication between agencies also has been essential during this time.

“It has been a major emergency and crisis,” he said. “We have learned a lot. Caddo Parish, the commissioners, the sheriff, Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness people, we have all worked together extremely well. Those briefings we were having and idea sessions we had were identifying problems. Usually, within 24 hours of identifying a problem, we had some kind of a solution to it. We’ve kept records of all that, so when we are through, we can do a postcrisis evaluation and say, ‘We had never had this before. Now we know it’s a possibility. Here’s what we’d do the same. Here’s what we would do differently the next time this comes up.’”

Arceneaux did emphasize that people who receive SNAP benefits should get their cards reloaded because more than 50 percent of the community was without power for more than 48 hours.

“The state had to ask the federal government, but it should have loaded automatically,” he said. “So people who are financially distressed should have the opportunity to go buy more food.”

Arceneaux said that while recovery efforts continue, the area dodged a bullet, and the people of Shreveport will rebound.

“In the big scheme of things, we’ve been fortunate,” he said. “We have had one heat-related death in Caddo Parish. People have cooperated with each other. They have helped each other. This falls in the category of major inconvenience, but still just major inconvenience. People will recover form this quickly. Then we’ll have to get rid of the unsightly debris. I am sure we will not be as quick as people would like us to be, but we will get it off the streets.”


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